PR, not PM.  The UK has a golden opportunity for Electoral Reform

While the Tory party seems to be fixated on finding a Prime Minister with a longer-dated “Best Before” label than Liz Truss, both they and the Labour party appear to have missed a more important point, which is that there’s never been a better time to effect electoral reform for the UK, but neither Party seems to have noticed, being too obsessed with the cult of premiership. 

Recent events have shown that the current two party system is even more broken than Liz Truss’ economic vision, and whoever wins the current Prime Ministerial beauty parade is in for a stormy ride, but nobody seems to ask why it’s all going wrong, and what can be done about it.

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Saving Energy – The Myth of Vampire Power

There’s nothing like an energy crisis to bring out the urban myths about what’s stealing all of our electricity.  The most prevalent of these is the concept of vampire or phantom power, where devices which are left plugged in or on standby are demonised, with the claim that they consume kiloWattHours of energy, pushing up our bills.  Given that electricity prices in the UK look set to triple this year, that’s a big worry.  However, many of the figures I see being used to support this are decades old, which means that some of the advice being given is misleading or downright wrong.  So I thought it would be a good time to look at exactly how much power our devices actually take, so that people can make informed decisions.

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Mad, Wacky and Compelling. MWC is back.

In 2020, the Mobile World Congress was one of the first victims of Covid, denying over 100,000 attendees their annual spring outing to Barcelona.  Two years, later, it’s one of the first major exhibitions to stage a credible come-back.  It’s not as big – the GSMA, who organise it are predicting around half the attendance figures.  Despite that, hosting 50,000+ people for a four day conference and exhibition is still a major step back to normality.

It’s great, if a little strange, to be back.  Enforced mask wearing makes serendipitous networking difficult, but the surprise is how busy it is.  At the start of the first day, entry queues stretched around the front of the exhibition halls, and by mid-morning it felt busier that you’d normally expect on the opening day.  It is smaller; there are empty gaps in the halls, and it’s absorbed the 4YFN startup event, which is a definite move for the better.  But it was busy, with a bustling vibe, giving everyone the feeling that the constraints of Covid are behind us.

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Introducing Bluetooth LE Audio

Introducing Bluetooth LE Audio – the book

Just before Christmas, the Bluetooth SIG published the final documents in the first release of Bluetooth LE Audio.  It’s been the largest single development in the history of the Bluetooth specifications, taking around eight years and comprising 25 new or updated documents, with over 1,250 pages of specification.  Its aim is ambitious, the intent being to provide the platform for the next twenty years of wireless audio development.

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Sock Puppets, Codecs and Bluetooth LE Audio

One of the perks of working in technology standards groups is that you get to go to meetings in nice places around the world.  A more minor perk is that the standards group tends to provide gifts for the participants.  They’re not generally much more than a T-shirt saying you’ve been there, or a packet of the local equivalent of popcorn or haggis, but they’re something to remember it by.

Last year, Covid put an end to international travel and we’ve been having to make do with virtual conferences.  As every standards group is discovering, they’re OK, but they don’t really work as well.  It’s far more difficult to have a good argument when you’re not face to face and there’s no substitute for a fight for the whiteboard markers or the reconciliations and wild flights of fancy that take place over a beer or a coffee.  For most standards, the even greater casualty is in testing, where prototype implementations normally come together to check that the specifications actually work.  Few companies are happy to let their prototypes out of their sight and running tests remotely, especially for wireless standards, is incredibly difficult.  Every standards group is suffering from that at the moment, with the result that we’re seeing release dates pushed back and features cut down.

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Bluetooth Covid Contact-Tracing Apps

In the previous article I looked at the tools the UK Government has available to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.  Essentially, they have two.  The first is to increase the number of ventilators and ICU beds, which gives more people with severe respiratory infections a chance to recover.  That means that doctors and politicians can avoid the unpleasant choice of deciding who gets treated and who does not, but only if the number of infections are curtailed in the first place, so that we don’t run out of ventilators.

The second is the lockdown tool.  It is currently a crude On/Off switch, which limits infections by keeping everyone at home.  At the moment, it’s not flexible – you’re either locked down, or you’re not, unless you’re a key worker or in an essential industry.  The hope is that few key workers will be infected, either because they have sufficient Personal Protection Equipment, or they’re able to social distance whilst doing their jobs.  Everyone else has to stay at home.  A lucky few can continue to work, but most are either furloughed or become unemployed, putting the economy in stasis.

The Government, quite rightly, is desperate to find ways to ease the lockdown.  The question is how to do that without immediately seeing infection rates rise?

The flavour of the day is to roll out smartphone apps which can trace whether you have come into contact with someone else who is infected.  The theory goes that if you do, you can be alerted and stay at home until you’re tested.  If you have coronavirus, you self-isolate.  If you don’t, you’re free to go back to work.  Like many proposals for phone apps, it sounds simple, which is why it’s so appealing.  Particularly to people like Matt Hancock, who has always had a bit of a penchant for phone apps, which he believes will save the NHS.  What nobody is mentioning, is that for contact-tracing to work, we will need the ability to provide at least half a million additional tests that can be administered at home every day. 

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